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Tools for Spiritual Growth

Meditation: What’s on Your Mind? The Bible teaches us about tools we can use to grow spiritually and build our relationship with God. In this third article in a series, we examine the importance of godly thoughts and meditation. by Don Hooser

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hat were you thinking? What are you thinking? What am I thinking? God knows very well, and He is concerned. We had better be concerned! Our minds are what matter most. We are what we are inwardly. The Bible has much to say about the human “heart,” a word that can be synonymous with “mind,” but which emphasizes the functions of thought, attitudes, emotions, personality and character. In the King James Version of the Bible, the word “heart” appears 833 times! God judges us largely by what is taking place in our hearts. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 through 7, Jesus Christ made it clear that obeying God with our thoughts is as important as obeying with our words and actions. Thus the spirit of the law is as important as the letter of the law. No wonder God hates hypocrisy. Speaking to hypocritical religious leaders, Jesus said, “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Thoughts are seldom hidden forever— they usually lead to words and actions. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). In the last two issues of The Good News we covered the vital spiritual tools of prayer and Bible reading and study. But the quality and effectiveness of our prayers and Bible study are greatly enhanced when we think carefully or meditate about what God is saying to us and what we are saying to God. Taking time to really think makes our prayer and Bible study meaningful instead of mechanical, inspiring rather than superficial.

make a major distinction between thinking and meditating. The Bible was originally written almost entirely in Hebrew and Greek. A particular word may be translated think in one English translation and meditate in another translation, or with similar words such as ponder, consider, imagine or muse. Here is the point: In the Bible, meditation is never portrayed as a religious, mental or

about “the power of positive thinking” is more humanism, faulty psychology and a rage for New Age “mind over matter” rather than anything biblical. Some of this is worshipping the mind rather than the Creator of minds! For many Christians and ­­non-­Christians, meditation is viewed as a mental or religious ritual. This discourages many believers because it makes meditation to be something awkward and difficult. This may come as a shock to some, but the Bible never mandates that we meditate— just as it never tells us to think—the presumption being that we already do. It does, however, tell us what we are to meditate about. What do you think is the most common type of meditation? Probably it is worry. How

We can learn much about our loving Designer and Creator by contemplating His incredible creation.

emotional ritual. It simply is directed thinking, reflection, contemplation or concentration. Certainly the quality of our thinking can continue to improve, especially when we regularly pray for God’s guidance. Prayer, Bible study and meditation take time. Most people are tempted to neglect these because they feel they are too busy, which is like the life of a young seedling being choked out by too many weeds (Luke 8:14). Find a quiet, comfortable place and take time—make time—for God! Our relationship with God needs nurturing, which requires time and communication. Today we see a virtual mania for all kinds of unbiblical meditation. Meditation that Many kinds of “meditation” is truly Christian is worlds apart from the Contemplating and reflecting on a subject meditation of Eastern religions (see “Misis commonly called meditation. Of itself, it guided and Mystical Meditation,” page 22). Even much of what has been written is not a religious word. The Bible does not

sad! Instead of worrying about problems (or possible problems), we should pray! In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus Christ tells us not to worry—but to put God first and trust Him for our needs. There are many constructive types of meditation, such as analysis, planning ahead and problem solving. Meditation should be practical! But much thinking, while not evil, is spent on trivial subjects. Beware of wasting your time and life that way. Sadly, many thoughts are carnal and destructive—dwelling on fears, resentments, jealousy, lusts, pride and the like. God, however, wants all of our thoughts to be clean, wholesome and godly. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). We expel wrong thoughts from our minds by filling them with right thoughts. And purity of heart

©2007 United Church of God, an International Association—www.ucg.org

Good News magazine article reprint

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GOOD NEWS FEATURE • Reconciliation: The Tr u e P a t h t o H e a l i n g a n d S a l v a t i o n

Misguided and Mystical Meditation

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riental meditation in general is an attempt to empty the mind, while Christian meditation fills the mind. The first looks within (to gain access to the “higher self”) or seeks “mindfulness” of the around (“mother earth” or the “cosmos”) while God’s way is to look up in worship and submission (to know and obey God). Eastern contemplation is trancelike detachment, while Christian contemplation is attachment—to God. The blanking of the mind to achieve “enlightenment” includes “transcendental meditation” (TM), the fad started in 1956 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Many followers believe in the power of “collective thought”—often called the “Maharishi effect”— whereby many people merely thinking the same thing make something happen! It’s essentially saying, “Who needs God or prayer when we can rely on our minds?” Satan continues to deceive the world with promises “to make one wise”—“your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5-6). He claims to be “an angel of light,” but in reality only blinds people so they are in spiritual darkness (2 Corinthians 11:14; 4:4). Secular meditation is commonly recommended for therapeutic relaxation for the mind and body. This can be helpful and harmless, but usually the practitioners are naively tempted to “advance” into the more spiritual philosophies and practices. Before long they may be chanting a mantra and studying Zen mysticism. There are plenty of good ways to relax that have no connection with such Eastern religions as Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism. Oriental-type meditation is dangerous. First, it is involvement with false religion, which alienates us from God (see Deuteronomy 12:29-32; 18:914). Secondly, any attempt to empty the mind in hopes of some telepathic enlightenment is unwittingly inviting demonic influence (compare Luke 11:24-26). The current widespread fascination with oriental religion is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Speaking through Isaiah to His people who should have known better, God said, “They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans” (Isaiah 2:6, NIV).

can only come about through true spiritual conversion. We need God to heal our “heart” trouble!

Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (verse 97). “My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (verse 148). Matters to meditate about We can learn much about our loving Designer and Creator by contemplating Let’s take a closer look at what God His incredible creation (Romans 1:20; tells us to think about. For a more thorough study, you can use a Bible concor- Psalm 19:1-4; 139:13-18; Job 38–39). One dance to find and read all the verses that great way to meditate is to spend time outdoors marveling at God’s flora and fauna! mention such words as meditate, think, We should also ponder our relationship commune, ponder, imagine, remember, with God and His plan and purpose for our examine, watch, etc. lives. David beautifully expressed this in We find two classic verses on this subject in Philippians 4—“Rejoice in the Psalm 8: “When I consider Your heavens, Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is (verse 4) and “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (verses 3-4, noble, whatever things are just, whatNew International Version). ever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good When to have spiritual meditation report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate Ideally, we should meditate every day on these things” (verse 8). and night about God and the things of The supreme focus of our attention and God! Psalm 1:2 speaks of a righteous adoration should be our awesome Creator man whose “delight is in the law of the God! We tend to be self-conscious when Lord, and in His law he meditates day and we need to be God-conscious. “If then night.” Make time to pause and meditate you were raised with Christ, seek those about what you are reading in the Bible to things which are above, where Christ is, gain spiritual understanding and inspirasitting at the right hand of God. Set your tion. mind on things above, not on things on Think of the parallel between eating the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). and spiritual nourishment. Food is better Meditate on your Maker and Master. digested when we eat slowly and chew it Contemplate His omnipotence, omniwell. To digest and absorb God’s Word, science and omnipresence. Be filled with we need to “chew” it well and relish each gratitude for His goodness, grace and morsel. It’s interesting that the word rumiglory. Ponder His perfection, personality nate can refer either to a ruminant mamand providence. Be in awe of God. mal chewing its cud or to turning a matter over and over in one’s mind. Meditate on God’s words As we reflect on God’s truth, we absorb, and works internalize and personalize God’s words Read and meditate on God’s revelaand ways. Rather than words engraved tion to mankind, the Holy Scriptures. in stone or written on paper, God’s laws This is truly listening to God. become written on our hearts! (Hebrews How appropriate that the longest chap- 8:10). ter in the Bible, Psalm 119 with its 176 The foremost reason for meditating on verses, is totally devoted to praising God God’s Word should be to analyze how for His Word and His laws. “I will medi- we can apply and practice what we are tate on Your precepts, and contemplate learning. “This Book of the Law shall not Your ways” (verse 15). “Oh, how I love depart from your mouth, but you shall

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The Good News article reprint—Meditation: What’s on Your Mind?


Television and movie producers often have an agenda for shaping the values What Should We Meditate About? of the audiences. If they want us to symhat are some of the things we might meditate on to get our minds more attuned to God’s way pathize with an atheist with an immoral of thinking? Here’s a short list to get you started: lifestyle and be disgusted with a sincere • God’s astounding creative power as revealed through Christian family man, they can easily His creation. manipulate our feelings in that direction • How God is a Father to us. (compare Isaiah 5:20). And ultimately • God’s awesome plan as revealed by His Holy Days. behind all evil influences and deception is • Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. a real Satan the devil (1 John 5:19; 2 Cor• What the Kingdom of God will be like, both in the inthians 11:3, 14). Millennium and beyond. Rather than be naive about the dangers, • Jesus Christ’s perfect example of what God wants us we must protect our minds from being to be. infected with spiritual pollution—garbage • Jesus Christ’s teachings—how can we best live by them? • The blessings that come from obeying God’s laws. in, garbage out, as they say. When we are • The curses that come from disobeying those laws. repeatedly exposed to evil such as immoral • How to overcome various sins. sex, pornography, violence and foul lan• The many promises in the Bible. guage, our consciences become insensi• The experiences of biblical figures—what can we learn tive and our personal standards are pulled from them? down. Actions become habits and habits • Read any section of the Bible and ask, What does God become addictions. want me to learn from this? We can all regularly pray the request in God’s Word is filled with subjects on which we can meditate. The important thing is that we set Psalm 119:37—“Turn away my eyes from aside time to do so, and in so doing learn to see things as God does. As He tells us in Isaiah 55:9, looking at worthless things, and revive “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts me in Your way.” We can ask ourselves, than your thoughts.” What a privilege and blessing it is to have many of those thoughts written down what movies and TV shows would Jesus for us in the Bible! Christ watch? What music would He listen —Scott Ashley to? What books and magazines would He read or look at? And what would He be meditate in it day and night, that you may God’s Word, the gift of the Holy Spirit is thinking about? observe to do according to all that is writ- necessary for deep spiritual understanding. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it Once we recognize sins we must confess is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ten in it. For then you will make your way them to God and seek His forgiveness. prosperous, and then you will have good NIV). Rule your heart! Better yet, let God We find an inspiring example of repensuccess” (Joshua 1:8, emphasis added rule your heart! tance, confession and prayer in Psalm 51, throughout).

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God reads minds

People tend to believe it doesn’t matter if thoughts are sinful, as long as they don’t act on them—because no one knows their thoughts. But Someone does. God knows every thought of every person (see Psalm 139). And He holds us accountable for our thoughts as well as our words and ways written by King David: “Wash me thor(see Matthew 5). oughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 the apostle Paul from my sin . . . Create in me a clean heart, speaks of the spiritual warfare we should O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within be waging. He says we must be “casting me” (verses 2, 10). down arguments and every high thing that When meditating on God’s Word, we exalts itself against the knowledge of God, should use it as a mirror to help us see bringing every thought into captivity to the what we need to change. obedience of Christ” (verse 5). That is impossible humanly speaking, but not Danger of mind-manipulation when we allow God to work through us. Now for a strong word of warning. Con- Along with Paul, we can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” sider the powerful influence of modern (Philippians 4:13). media in manipulating our thoughts. For May the conclusion of the beautiful example, no matter how long a movie Psalm 19 in verse 14 be our prayer: “Let lasts, it usually keeps our full attention. And with all of today’s technological real- the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O ism, we viewers vicariously experience Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” GN and respond to everything in the drama.

People tend to believe it doesn’t matter if thoughts are sinful, as long as they don’t act on them—because no one knows their thoughts. But Someone does. God knows every thought of every person. And intersperse your prayer with meditation. Then your worship is a two-way conversation with God. Pray and meditate about God’s solutions when you have problems. And meditate with thanksgiving as you count your blessings. Meditation should include self-examination

Spiritual growth requires introspection to discover the sins and faults that we need to remove (compare 1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Pray for God to help you see yourself the way God sees you. Fasting for humility can help like a spiritual mirror. As we evaluate ourselves and do this “soul-searching” based on the standards of

©2007 United Church of God, an International Association—www.ucg.org

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Meditation